KRUPNIKAS: A LITHUANIAN HONEY LIQUEUR

Posted: October 28, 2018 in Cocktails, drink recipes, Drinks, Food, mixology, Recipes, Uncategorized
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This is a story about something that is near and dear to my heart…and liver.

I’ve been making Krupnikas for over 40 years. (And no, I won’t be posting my secret recipe here.) It’s a honey-based liqueur that is popular in eastern Europe, especially in countries like Lithuania, where my parents were born. Though most of the Krupnikas that I’ve tasted is similar, no two recipes are exactly alike…and that’s where the arguments begin!

I have many friends that make Krupnikas. Some use the leaner-meaner approach (like me)…others go for the everything-in-one-basket approach. I’m not sure that more is necessarily better. Some friends claim that it isn’t real Krupnikas if you don’t use black pepper. But I’ve been to many pubs and restaurants in Lithuania and have never been served Krupnikas with black pepper in it. Other recipes include ginger, turmeric, saffron, and heavy amounts of anise. I prefer a lighter approach.

 

krupnikas

 

If you Google “Krupnikas,” you’ll find many different recipes…some pretty good, some incredibly awful…but none as good as mine! I use grain alcohol…there’s no distilling involved. There were times in the last 40 years when grain alcohol was not readily available to me, and so my Krupnikas production came to a screeching halt for a while. But these days, you can usually find it within a short ride from home just about anywhere you live. (Here in New England, it’s sold in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.) Desperate times without grain alcohol forced me to try vodka instead, but I never liked the way it came out.

Krupnikas uses a variety of unusual spices, none of which have their origins in Lithuania, so it’s interesting to hear how these exotic ingredients made their way via various trade routes to eastern Europe.

The story goes that Krupnikas was created by Benedictine monks in the 1500’s, and that it became popular in both Lithuania and Poland for celebrations like birthdays, weddings, and holidays. But when the Soviets shut down all Krupnikas production, the recipes went “underground,” passed down from generation to generation through closely guarded family recipes. That’s why everyone thinks their family recipe is the best!

 

One pot for honey, one pot for the various spices I use…to be combined later.

 

My own Krupnikas making story started with my uncle, who would make large batches of the stuff in his tiny Richmond Hill, Queens, NY kitchen. Because I am the godfather of my cousin, his son, I received a bottle as a gift from my uncle every Christmas. By New Year’s, that bottle would be gone. It wasn’t long before I got very tired of waiting 51 weeks for another bottle and I asked my uncle if he would share his recipe with me. He never did that exactly, but he did let me sit in on a brewing session and take notes in a cramped corner of his kitchen.

 

My wife, an artist, helped me design my own label.

 

 

I took my notes home from my uncle’s house and tried to decipher what I wrote. Since there was no such thing as the internet back then (what we call “the dark ages,” kids), I drove all over New York City in search of some of the more exotic spices used in making my uncle’s Krupnikas recipe. I became a regular at several Asian and Indian stores, where, at first, they looked at this tall, geeky white dude somewhat suspiciously as I brought my spices to the counter for purchase.

Over the decades, through trial and error, I changed my uncle’s original recipe to the one that I proudly call my own today. You can’t buy it in a store, but if you have tons of money and want to go into business with me, I’m sure we can work something out! Or become my best friend and you’ll get a bottle every Christmas…and then you’ll be the one waiting 51 weeks for another!

 

krup glasses

 

Versions of Krupnikas are available in liquor stores: Old Krupnik is a Polish liqueur, and the German brand Barenjager is another. And many whiskies, like Dewar’s and Jack Daniels, now have honey-flavored spirits as well.

Though quite different from my own recipe, there are two authentic Lithuanian style Krupnikas liqueurs made in the United States by acquaintances of mine.

Based out of Durham, North Carolina, the Brothers Vilgalys Spirits Company (www.brothersvilgalys.com) has a pepperier version that uses local North Carolina wildflower honey. President of the company, Rim Vilgalys, the son of my good childhood friend from New York, has done what I never got around to do: make this fabulous elixir available to the public. You’ll find it at ABC stores throughout the state of North Carolina.

 

bvsco-krupnikas

 

The second brand is made and sold in the New York area and goes by the name of KAS Krupnikas. (www.kasspirits.com)

kas_krupnikas_new

Both are pretty darn good. But are they as good as mine? I think you already know my answer to that question!

Sveiks! (Cheers!)

Comments
  1. Arthur Shapiro says:

    Great post. I love the story. Will share it on my FB page for the blog.

    Does this mean you’re thinking of bringing it to market as we discussed?

    I’m thinking about writing an article about you and krupnikas. What do you think?

    Arthur

    Arthur Shapiro Blog: http://www.boozebusiness.com Facebook: http://facebook.com/boozebusiness

    Inside The Bottle: People, Brands, and Stories Now Available on Amazon

    a.shapiro@mac.com 917-855-7726

    >

    Like

    • Alz355 says:

      Hi, Arthur! I don’t know if I’m ready to try again…but believe me, you would be the first to know!!! (Kelly’s doing much better and life has pretty much settled back into the usual paces.) If you want to write an article about me and the elixir of life, I’m all for that! Hope you’re doing well!!!!

      Like

  2. This is intriguing! I must find it and then try to replicate – you got my curiosity going.

    Like

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